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Packers patience with rookie K Anders Carlson burns them in playoff loss to 49ers

Anders Carlson’s missed fourth-quarter field goal against the San Francisco 49ers meant the Green Bay Packers’ rookie kicker missed a kick in 10 of his final 12 games to finish the season.

The latest allowed the 49ers to take the lead on a late touchdown and escape an upset bid by the Packers in the NFC Divisional Round.

“I don’t think the kicks have been the same miss every time,” said Anders Carlson after the loss. “Each kick is different. What Coach talks about it is each kick is its own story. Just trying to make the best story out of each one. I think they’ve been inconsistent.”

With just over three minutes left in the game, Carlson attempted a 41-yard kick that would have given the Packers a seven-point lead. Unfortunately, and like too many kicks before it, this one slid past the upright.

The 49ers offense would then march down the field on offense and score a touchdown, eventually winning the game by three points.

“(The) operation was great,” said Carlson, “blocking was great. It’s all me.

“I knew the wind was right to left and my goal was to play a little right middle and just the contact off my foot started a little too much left. By then, it played off the post and just gotta have better contact.”

This season, Carlson was actually perfect on kicks through Week 5, but from that point on, consistency eluded him. Carlson’s six missed extra points were the most in football, and when you couple that with him missing six field goal attempts as well, there have only been three games since Week 5 that Carlson didn’t have a miss.

“I don’t know,” said LaFleur on Carlson’s continued missed kicks. “I think if we had the answer we would have fixed it, right. So, certainly just got to work on the consistency. We’ve seen him do it. We know what he’s capable (of), but you’ve got to be consistent in order to last in this league.”

From Day 1, whether it was Brian Gutekunst, LaFleur, or Rich Bisaccia, the Packers preached patience with Carlson, knowing that there would be ups and downs that come with relying heavily on a rookie kicker. With an overall young team coming into the season that was in the midst of a transition and many unsure of what expectations can be, that patient approach on paper made sense.

The hope with Carlson, like at many other position groups on this Packers’ roster, was that some short-term growing pains would pay off in the long run. And that outcome is still entirely possible. But as expectations change and circumstances change, one could easily argue that the approach should as well.

However, the Packers continued to remain committed to Carlson, and with a trip to the NFC Championship Game on the line, points were left off the scoreboard.

“You’ve just got to be resilient,” said LaFleur post-game when asked what his message to Carlson was. “You’ve got to find a way to get more consistent.”

Since drafting Carlson, Bisaccia has commented numerous times on his “mental makeup,” or ability to bounce back. In fact, that element played a key role in the Packers’ decision to select Carlson in the sixth round.

To Carlson’s credit, we saw that bounce-back ability on display throughout the entire season. He never missed two kicks in a row, and despite the inconsistency, he never missed two kicks in a game. But the issue in this case when competing in the playoffs is that there never was a bounce-back opportunity. The Packers season is now over.

Given when Carlson’s missed kick occurred, it can be easy to put the loss on his shoulders, but there were a myriad of missed opportunities throughout this game that contributed to the outcome.

The Packers were just 2-for-5 in the red zone on offense. Jordan Love would throw two interceptions and missed another third down throw to Aaron Jones late in the game that would have extended the drive. Defensively, Darnell Savage and Keisean Nixon both let interceptions go through their hands as well.

“I felt like we had plenty of opportunities to kind of put the game out of reach and unfortunately just didn’t do enough,” said LaFleur. “And it’s never one play, ‘cause I’m sure a lot of it’s going to come down to the missed field goal, but there were plenty of opportunities.

“You can go back in the first half and have three red zone opportunities and have six points. There’s a lot of plays out there that it just, if one plays goes different, then probably have a different result right now.”

When OTAs this spring and eventually training camp in the summer roll around, in all likelihood, Carlson is going to be on the Packers roster. My guess is that the difference, however, is that unlike last summer, there will be competition for him. Heading into 2024, there will be expectations for this Packers team, and patience at the kicker position is no longer afforded, and already too much grace may have been provided.

The kicker position coming into the season was really no different than wide receiver, tight end, or any of the other position groups that relied heavily on young players. Growing pains were expected, but the ultimate issue is that while the young players elsewhere improved, Carlson did not see the same progress.

“I think there’s a lot to learn,” said Carlson on this season. “For me, it’s tough to see these guys because I know how much they put in. I just want to put them in the best position as possible. Just thinking about them and working for them.”

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire